Parents protest new gifted program and mask mandate at board meeting

New curriculum updates include more time on math and language arts

EMILY LIU/The Sun: The Berlin Community School (BCS) Board of Education convenes on Aug. 25 for a regular meeting, with Superintendent Joseph Campisi announcing there would be a Pfizer vaccine clinic the following day for all Berlin Borough residents and staff at the school. Second doses will be given on Sept. 17.

The Berlin Community School Board of Education met on Aug. 25 to discuss changes in the upcoming school year, including both its curriculum and gifted programs.

The district currently uses identification measures like the CogAT test and NJSLA (New Jersey Student Learning Assessment) to test for giftedness in second and fifth grade, but it wants to create a more inclusive approach.

“Somebody’s giftedness could come through in third grade,” Superintendent Joseph Campisi explained later. “It could come through in fourth grade. Sometimes it’s a student finding their giftedness, so we ‘d like to identify through all grade levels, using some more metrics and looking at different assessments.”

Campisi said there would be more information coming on the updated gifted program at the next board of education meeting on Sept. 22.

Several parents at the August meeting came to protest the statewide mask mandate for students, school personnel and visitors in the upcoming school year, with one argument being that it’s less about the masks than about a parent’s decision on whether or not to send a child  to school without a mask.

“As superintendent, it’s my obligation to follow executive orders,” Campisi said.

Prior to the masking order, the district had planned to have a mask-optional policy, while still encouraging masks, as per the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)    recommendation.

The district will continue to follow new guidelines and recommendations put out by the state with regard to COVID prevention for the upcoming school year, and quarantine will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Middle-school Principal Therese Bonmati and elementary-school Principal Kellilyn Mawson  gave a brief update at the beginning of the meeting about changes to scheduling and other initiatives.

“The big difference in the schedule this year are two items: math and language arts,” Bonmati explained. “We have double periods of math and language arts, so that it’s 90 minutes a day. I think the teachers will be able to take their time and not feel as rushed going through the content to make sure students are actually mastering the content, and I wanted to increase the time they have in world language to better prepare them when they get to high school.”

The principal noted that the number of electives students can take had also increased. Seventh and eighth graders can have Spanish three times a year, rotating with two electives, and fifth and sixth graders can have the subject twice a year, rotating with three electives.

Mawson shared that elementary students would also use a five-cycle rotation, where each has related arts or special-related-area class for three out of five cycles.

“My favorite thing about the elementary schedule this year is that we’re including a new special (class) for social emotional learning to help our students recover some of those social skills and coping skills,” she said. “We’re really excited to take a proactive stance in really making sure our students are having a ,whole-student approach to learning.”

During the superintendent’s report, Campisi announced that the administration of second doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be offered to Berlin Borough residents and school staff on Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. First doses were administered one after the board meeting.

Board member Jeff Greenberg shared during his policy update that health and physical education standards have been updated to meet the state Department of Education’s standards, and that the health curriculum would now include topics like financial literacy; mental- health awareness; awareness of physical, sexual, drug-related abuses in grades seven and up;  history of disabled and LGBT persons and their contributions to society; and African American accomplishments in history.

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in the school cafeteria.